LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Louisville Metro Police officer suspended after marching in uniform outside of a Louisville abortion clinic on Feb. 20 has filed a federal lawsuit against the department and city, claiming his constitutional rights were violated.
While Chief Erika Shields ultimately sustained no violations against Officer Matthew Schrenger, the lawsuit argues “a quiet, off-duty prayer, on a public sidewalk” resulted in the officer being suspended and stripped of his powers for more than four months while under investigation.
And the lawsuit claims LMPD dragged its feet, not even bothering to question Schrenger for several weeks, in essence unofficially punishing him by “deliberately extending his suspension period.”
In the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Schrenger denies that he was “protesting” outside the EMW Women's Surgical Center downtown. He claims he was walking and silently praying on a public sidewalk — a traditional public forum to which the First Amendment applies — before the center was even open, the suit says.
Schrenger was with his father praying on the sidewalk outside of the center in the early morning hours of Feb. 20, before his shift began, according to the suit.
The officer said his prayer was “in support of the lives ended by abortion,” and he and his father alternatingly wore a 40 Days for Life sign, which is part of a religious campaign to end abortion through peaceful prayer, according to the lawsuit.
EMW staff said the officer intimidated patients and medical staff while wearing his uniform and gun.
Surveillance video from the clinic showed Schrenger in a marked police cruiser. He marched outside of the clinic for approximately 45 minutes, at one point holding a sign that read "pray to end abortion."
He was suspended and stripped of his police powers that morning.
There's state law and LMPD policy forbidding an officer from participating in political demonstrations while in uniform. But according to a June 15 letter obtained from Shields, the rules have been inconsistently enforced.
Shields, who is also named as a defendant in the lawsuit, wrote there is "no question" Schrenger participated in a protest while in uniform. She said Schrenger tried to cover up his uniform with his coat, so the department cleared him of the violations and told him to comply with the rules moving forward.
In the lawsuit, Schrenger said Shields told him, “It’s not black and white. And the policies have to be written in such a manner so that the subjectivity is taken away.”
Given that acknowledgement, according to the lawsuit, “Schrenger’s conduct admittedly was not clearly prohibited, there should have been no suspension and no investigation.”
Lawsuits present only one side of a case. WDRB News reached out for a statement, but LMPD does not comment on pending litigation.
Schrenger also claimed he was treated differently than officers who engaged in political protests, mentioning officers marching in an LGBT parade and in Black Lives Matter protests.
“Upon information and belief, LMPD officers’ participation in some or all of these uniformed marches was done at the encouragement of the LMPD,” according to the lawsuit.
Schrenger has suffered humiliation, sought counseling, lost pay and “has lost much of his job satisfaction, due to LMPD’s purposeful mistreatment of him despite his many years of loyal and exemplary service,” the suit says.
The lawsuit is seeking unspecified monetary damages, including back pay, and a jury trial.
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